I’m presently somewhere in North Wales, a little way from a stunning view of mountains across the Irish Sea. For the past few days I’ve been at Ty Newyyd, which is the national writing centre of Wales, and former residence of David Lloyd George (also nearby is a bucolic river, overlooked by a very Elven memorial to Lloyd George; generally an air of Tolkien). I’m attending a course on writing for performance led by British playwright Kaite O’Reilly, in the company of six other writers: variously poets, playwrights, and theatre-makers, and it’s been such a time of nourishment and artistic re-calibration.
We’ve been having really stunning, super in-depth conversations about form, structure, and theatrical world-building, which has been really refreshing, and quite hypnotic. It’s not the usual cudgel about how there’s only one way to make a play: Kaite has a profound and deep love for formal invention, and speaks in terms of music, rhythm, flow, energy (the kind of dramaturgy you often talk abouton a rehearsal floor with mats and mats of writing being shuffled around, rather than at a playwriting masterclass). But at the same time there’s also a deep admiration for and knowledge of conventional structures and dramaturgical forms, what we talked about earlier today as the ebbing wave-like energy of the three-act beat structure, its climbing energies, its crests, its crashes.
Also important: I think is the introduction to the intense discipline Kaite brings to her process, really the sort of “set yourself tasks, write constantly, constantly write” stuff that I’ve always found very frightening because I’m such a lazy prick. But I’m beginning to find that only by constantly pushing against that mental wall and forcing yourself to imaginatively work around prompts and challenges that you can confront your habits, move away from your tics, and really, truly, invent. I’ve always worked from a place of inspiration, but this craft-driven, meditative process is a really important counterweight to that: some of the writing I’ve been doing on this workshop has really surprised me, I feel like I’m expanding my palette.
Most vitally for me, though, this course is allowing me to really think like a writer again. I have to admit sometimes I take that for granted: there are so many ways of making, doing, creating– with your hands, with your body, with your voice– that I’ve recently begun to get very suspicious of the literary. And I think a large part of that has had to do with me resorting to very tired tropes, conventions, motifs in my work. I’m really relishing having exercises, images, career advice, a whole universe of writerly wisdom, thrown at me. It’s a reminder that writing is such difficult work, such privileged work. I’m getting in touch with difficulty again, the struggle to refine and make something good: I’ve been so complacent, it’s really shocking.
Anyway, I thought I’d jot all this down before trying to sleep amidst a blitz of fucking midges. These are worse than mosquitoes.